Prologue – 36,673rd Cycle, Movement of Sleep, Sea Rhythm, 25th Motion: Umbral Melody
My breath misted in the early morning air as I opened my sleep-blurred eyes and was met with the sharp stinging of cold exposure on my nose and cheeks. The chill air seemed to ignore the fabric of my clothing and directly assault my body. Each movement I made was sluggish and accompanied by a jolt of sensation, like my body attempting to reignite its inner warmth.
These initial shudders were accompanied by a slightly longer spasm, traveling down my spine and into my limbs and finally proceeded by lingering shivering. The shaking was uncontrollable and seemed to be some lasting, primal will desperately straining to find any heat, no matter how futile the attempt. In those moments, I came to fully realize the meaning of being chilled to the bone.
Each night had been progressively cooler, in spite of my hopes, and malnutrition combined with prolonged exposure had finally broken my resistances. The rocks I had slipped into unconsciousness upon were uneven and unyielding. The cold had apparently prevented my sleeping self from moving, and my right side, which I had rested on, had lost all sensation.
Unable to move my right arm or leg, both limbs curled in numbness as I strained to reposition myself and restore circulation throughout my body. Despite knowing the discomfort that location would inflict upon me, I had decided the rocky outcropping would provide at least meager protection from the gusting surges of wind that rolled in waves over the slender hills.
After ten minutes of struggling to regain the use of my limbs and mobility in my chilled muscles, I was able to stand and survey my surroundings. Not knowing how far or in what direction I had walked, I was unable to discern any significant difference in the nearby area from the rest of the region I had traversed up to that point.
In my uncertainty, I was once again reminded of Her encompassing embrace: the sensation of being held tightly yet tenderly, enveloped by Her warmth. She would hold me to Her breast, arms and legs pulling me in tight. Her warm breath would carry gentle whispers that flowed over my face.
But the forbidden secrets and dark eras hidden beneath the memory of Her words brought me out of the reverie. No amount of seductive warmth and spoiling affection could dispel the cold eons from those ancient eyes and their celestial gaze. Shaking my head, I suppressed those memories and stumbled forward, ignoring the watchful skies overhead. Without knowing where I had come from, where I was, or where I was going, I did the only thing I could and walked.
The hills I traveled over were gently sloped folds of rock and clay, sparsely vegetated with dehydrated purple-gray shrubs. The plants stood less than a fingers length off the ground and were brittle and sparse. This made them unsuitable for either insulation or sustenance, both facts I had learned from experience. The only breaks in that monotonous landscape were occasional stones and rivulets. The water in these small streams never flowed more than half a hand deep or two hands wide but appeared clean and had not yet proven unpotable.
Despite the occasional water source, a lack of food had left me weak and vulnerable to the cold. My footsteps became arduous. I no longer could carry my head upright, and it instead rolled in small, involuntary responses in rhythm with the swinging of my listlessly hanging arms as I walked. With my gaze drifting ground-ward, I watched myself fall into each shuffling step, unable to fully support my weight properly after each footfall.
It was in that desperate manner, with the gentle, yellow glow of the mother providing some heat overhead, that I heard a noise. In my numbed state, weakened and fatigued, that noise brought what little will remained within me out, and I forced my eyes upward to scan my surroundings, which exhaustion had previously encouraged me to ignore.
I was unsure of what to search for, as the precise nature of the noise eluded my tired mind. All I knew in that moment was I had heard a new noise in that unchanging environment, and that meant I could hope to search for a new sight from which the noise had originated.
Scanning my surroundings with an eager gaze, nothing stood out to me as unusual from what I had come to expect of the grim territory. But, as I searched in vain with my eyes, my ears again gave me hope. The yet indescribable noise reoccurred, that time more more audibly, echoing briefly across the barren moor. The noise continued to emanate with increasing frequency until it became a distinct sound akin to the groaning of straining timbers accompanied by the occasional shuddering resonance of metal.
Although the echoing in the hills prevented me from discerning the direction the noise originated from, the increasing volume encouraged me to believe that the source of the sound was approaching my general location. After agonizingly straining my bleary eyes for some time, I finally saw an object come into view. From around the crest of a nearby hillock, a vague shape slowly emerged in the distance. Much the same as when I first heard the noise, this object was initially indescribable apart from its distinction when set against the landscape I had grown wearily accustomed to.
As I waited, the object approached and came into some clarity. I saw what appeared to be a box attached to a creature coming towards me. The creature had a long, low body and pulled itself and the box across the ground, curving back and forth in lateral undulations supported by many, rapidly pumping legs on either of its sides. At a distance still too far for my hazy vision to determine any further detail, the creature gradually drew its curving movements tighter and slowly stopped its legs, coming to a halt. From atop the creature, another figure came into view and approached me.
The new figure was also indistinct, but I could at least determine it had a human-like shape. That was sufficient for my final, desperate energy to emerge, and I drew my feet forward from the ground while simultaneously attempting to revive my voice. In that sudden, yet minor exertion, my stamina finally depleted, and the last thing I recall from that moment was falling into a haze of whiteness.
End Prologue: Landfall